The Bill Woodin Story

This is the unexpurgated story of how a young idealistic American fulfilled his dream and in doing so changed the face of cartridge collecting for ever.

By Ken Elks

Bill Woodin looks apprehensively at me, wondering what else I am going to be write about him. Or maybe he was just waiting for me to stop talking?

Assistant Editor’s Note: I found an original copy of this work in the Woodin Laboratory last year when I was screening items from the collection to be sold at auction or from my tables at the St. Louis International Cartridge Show (SLICS) 2022. After I read it the first time, I was amazed and put it away to take home, with plans to post it on the Woodin Lab website. I contacted the author and publisher, Ken Elks, for permission to use it. Ken instantly agreed and authorized me to edit it in any way I wanted, which I did, mainly for length. Ken tells a wonderful story from a unique perspective and I’m sure every word is true. I knew Bill for many years, and I’m impressed that Ken was able to capture his personality so well.

Mel Carpenter


Scene:  A travel agency in Tucson, Arizona, 1942

Travel Agent:  Good morning sir!  How can I help you?

Young Bill Woodin:  I’ve been thinking about taking a holiday and wondering what you’ve got to offer.

TA:         Would that be a holiday in US or maybe abroad somewhere?

YBW:      Abroad would be very nice.  But not Europe – there’s a war going on over there and in any case, I want somewhere warm.  Being from Arizona, I can’t stand the cold.

TA:         I think I have just the place.  It’s called Burma.

YBW:      Where’s that?

TA:         Where?  I’m not sure, but it’s definitely abroad somewhere.  And rest assured it’s definitely hot.  In fact very hot.  Except when it’s raining of course.  Then it is still hot but you get wet through.

YBW:      Sounds interesting.  Tell me, does it have any snakes?

TA:         Snakes?  Why do you ask?

YBW:      I like snakes.

TA:         Glory be! In that case you are in luck young sir – Burma is swarming with snakes, real big ones too.  I shouldn’t be surprised if you see thousands of them.

YBW:      I love the sound of that.  What about cats?  I love cats too

TA:         Don’t worry, they have cats too, big stripey ones that like being played with.  Before they eat you, that is.  Ha! Ha! Ha!

YBW:      Ha! Ha!

TA:         Only joking, sir.

YBW:      What is the accommodation like?

TA:         Excellent I am told.  Occasionally you may have to room in a tent because it is something of an adventure holiday.  One good thing is that the accommodation also includes all meals so you won’t need to spend a dime on food except when you want something palatable.

YBW:      What does it cost?

TA:         Well, believe it or not, right at this moment Uncle Sam is sponsoring the whole deal so it is completely FREE.  The whole SHEBANG!

YBW:      Wow!  It must be my lucky day.

TA:         Absolutely right!

YBW:      If it’s an adventure holiday, I won’t have to ride a horse will I?  Horses and me never get along.

TA:         Never fear, I don’t think it includes horse rides.  But there will be lots of riding around in big trucks, or even an ambulance for a change, and plenty of walking out in the fresh air.  It will do you good, make a man of you – if you get through it, of course. 

YBW:      Why do you say that?  Have there been some troubles with other holidaymakers?

TA:         Well, just a few squabbles with some Japanese tourists down the road. 

YBW:      Japanese?  I’ve heard of them.  Wasn’t there some problem with them a while back?

TA:         You mean at Pearl Harbor?  Just a few Japanese sailors – you know what sailors are, they get into port, have a few beers, start up fights, that kind of thing.

YBW:      I will just have to make sure I steer clear of them.

TA:         Good thinking.  Though sometimes that might be a bit difficult to achieve.  I am sure you know how things are in these tourist spots, never anywhere to sit down, big queues at the bar, overpriced food, cameras being shoved in your face.

YBW:      OK, I will watch out for them.  Another thing, will there be anywhere in Burma I can get hold of some cartridges?  I collect ammunition, a bit odd I know, and if possible I would like to add some of the local stuff.  This might be a good opportunity.

TA:         Lordy!  Sounds like this holiday is made for you, young sir.  Let me tell you, there will be ammunition just lying around, stacks of it, all different calibres, waiting for a keen young lad like you who can appreciate it.

YBW:      I can’t wait to get there.  When is the next trip?

TA:         It just so happens we have a draft,…er…. I mean party, leaving today.  I can squeeze you in on that if you really want to go.

YBW:      Yes, why not?  I can go home and get some things packed, tell my Mom where I am off to and come back right away.

TA:         No need for that.  As I said this is an all-expenses paid holiday so they provide you with the right clothing, thanks to Uncle Sam.  They even give you spending money, a pitiful amount to be sure, but better than nothing.  Don’t worry, though, I’ll phone your Mom and let her know once you are safely on your way.

YBW:      Thanks!  You have been a real help.

TA:         My pleasure.  Think nothing of it.  However, there is just one thing –  first I need you to sign a form.  It’s only a formality, for insurance and that kind of thing.

YBW:      No problem.  Where do I sign?

TA:         Just here and here.   That’s it.  Now I will countersign it here, as a witness.  You never know, something might go wrong and it’s best to have done the paperwork.  There, all done.  Now private, just go outside and wait by that truck for the others.

YBW:      Private?

TA:         Er, yes, did I say that?  It’s ……… you know, er ……… “private citizen”…… yes, “private citizen.”

YBW:      What about you continuing to call me “sir”?

TA:         Sorry, no can do.  The people who run the holiday, they like to be called “sir” so we have to have some way of showing who is in charge and who isn’t, so I’m afraid it will be ”private” from now on.

YBW:      I am sure they will call me Bill once they get to know me and we have made friends.  Though, and this will make you laugh, people are funny about names.  When one of my friends joined the Marines, the drill sergeant kept calling him “Sebastian” and that wasn’t his name at all.   At least, I think he told me it was “Sebastian.”


[YBW exits left, at the double]


Scene:  A house in wildest Arizona 1945

[The young Bill Woodin approaches the house and rings on the bell.  It is answered by a woman in her late forties]

Mrs Woodin (for it is she):  Yes? What do you want?

YBW:    Hi!  I’m home!

MW:    And you are?

YBW:    Stop joking Mom.  It’s me, your son.

MW     (looking at him suspiciously):  Are you?  What’s your name?

YBW:    It’s me, William H Woodin III?

MW:     I did have a son of that name but he disappeared three years ago.   Went into town to book a holiday and was never seen again.

YBW:    That’s right Mom, I did.  Gee, was that only three years ago?  It seems a lot longer.

MW     (still suspicious): Lawks a mussy (Editor: do Americans really speak like that?) (Assistant Editor: Yes.)  You had better come in then and let me have a look at you.  I’ve got some old photos somewhere.    You look a lot older than my Billy.

YBW:    Well it was three years ago.  So I should look at least three years older wouldn’t you say?

MW:    I suppose so.  Now that you mention it, you do look a bit like him.  How do I know you are him though?

YBW:    Because I am. 

MW:    OK, but I don’t want to be fooled by some imposter.  It has happened before, to some French guy called Martin Guerre.

YBW:    Martin Guerre?

MW:    Yes, Martin Guerre – if you don’t know the story you can look it up on the Internet when they get round to inventing it forty years from now.

YBW:     Internet?  What’s that?

MW:    Never mind, you’ll never understand even if I told you.  Look, you had better come in.   So if you are my Billy, where did you get to?

YBW:    Well the guy in town fixed me up with the most amazing holiday you can imagine.  It was an adventure holiday in Burma.

MW:    Burma?  That an odd name?  Where’s Burma?  Some place in Indiana or Alaska maybe?

YBW:    I’m not actually sure but it was definitely foreign.  Very different from here.  You know how in Arizona we only get rain on the third Thursday of August every four years?  Well in Burma it rains every day, all day, for six months at a time.

MW:    Are you sure that you were in Burma?  That sounds like England to me.  I hear they have a lot of rain there.  Is Burma part of England?

YBW:    Come to think of it, it might be.  I met lots of English people there, even used to drink tea with them.  Mind you, it took me a long time to realise what they were talking about because they called it a “cuppachar” – bit of a silly name if you ask me. (Assistant Editor: Do people in England really talk like that?)

MW:    Yeah, I’ve heard that the English are a bit odd.  What was the holiday like?

YBW:    It was very exciting.  Every day we had to get up an hour before daybreak and go for long a walk.  I have to say that I got bit bored having to do it every day and told the sergeants that.

MW:    Sergeants?

YBW:    Yeah!  The sergeants.  They’re the people who run everything.  Trouble is they wouldn’t take me seriously and said all the others really enjoyed the walks and I was rather letting everyone down by not wanting to join in.

MW:    Did they feed you properly? – You look a bit thin.

YBW:    I suppose you could say the food was both good and bad. 

MW:    What do you mean?

YBW:    The bad thing was that the food was awful.

MW:    What was the good thing?

YBW:    The good thing was that there was plenty of it. 

YBW     (continuing):  That was one of the things I missed most of all, your home cooking.  There were times when I just ached to have some of your roast ground squirrel pie followed by cactus crème brulee.  Not to mention that lovely rattlesnake casserole you used to make on Sundays – now that I really missed.

MW     (wiping tear from corner of her eye):  Yes, I remember those days, when we used to meet up with our nearest neighbours, the ones from that ranch 150 miles to the north of here.  How we all laughed when grandpa Woodin got tipsy and fell in the water trough.

YBW:    We used to have wild days like that in Burma.  There were some Japanese people down the road and they were always having firework parties, lots of bright red, green and yellow sparklers shooting about the sky, and the noisiest crackers you have ever heard.  They did overdo it a bit.  Sometimes went on for days on end.

MW:    Sounds dangerous to me.

YBW:    No, we were quite safe, we always kept well out the way.  The officers, the ones whose holiday camp was where we were staying, they always set an example by being the first to keep out the way, usually about 50 miles or so most of the time.

MW:    So you were never in any danger at all?

YBW:    None at all.  Except I was sure the camp cook was trying to poison us.

MW:    It must be nice to leave all that behind you and get home.

YBW:    Yes it is.  And wait until you see all the souvenirs I’ve brought back.

MW     (excited):  What have you brought back for me?

YBW:    Well not exactly for you, Mom.  They’re just souvenirs for me.

MW:    You mean to say you have been away for three whole years and you haven’t brought me back a present?

YBW:    I couldn’t Mom, honest.  If I had brought you a present I would have had to leave some of my souvenirs behind, to make room,

MW:    What have you got then?

YBW:     I’ve got lots and lots of cartridges.  I want to use them as the foundation for a National Collection.

MW:    You’ve brought back cartridges?  That’s all?  No gold trinkets, no silk kimono, no exotic perfumes?  Not even so much as a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers?  You have brought back cartridges to a country that has overflowed with cartridges since the Civil War?

YBW:    Yes, of course.  What’s wrong with that?

MW     (sighing):  Yes indeed – what could possibly be wrong with that?   Tell me, was it you who sent all those boxes that kept turning up for the past three years?

YBW:     Yes, I did send you a lot of boxes.

MW     (brightening up):  Ah!  Is my present among those?

YBW:    Of course not Mom, they just boxes of (they both speak in unison) ammunition!

YBW:    (continuing): Well, you just wait until you see what else I’ve got.  You’ll be just as excited as I am.

MW     (sardonically):  Yes, Billy, I am sure I will be.

YBW:    Look Mom, it’s great to be back but I have had a long journey, travelling for the past seven days.  I could really do with some shut-eye, so if you don’t mind I just wanna go to bed.

MW:     Er, yes, but there’s a bit of a problem.  Chuck is using your room. 

YBW:    Who’s Chuck?

MW:    He’s my lodger. 

YBW:    And he’s using my room?

MW:    Don’t take on so, Billy, you weren’t using it and I thought I could make a little money renting it out.   You’ll like Chuck.  A nice young man, though a bit odd.  For some reason he doesn’t like windy places, kept on saying he was avoiding the draft.  Still, he doesn’t collect cartridges, so that’s one good thing.

YBW:     OK, so where do I sleep?

MW:    I’ll put up a bed for you in the stable, put some straw in some sacks so you can make yourself comfortable and wrap yourself in an old horse blanket to keep warm.

YBW:    OK Mom.  We can unpack all my souvenirs and open my boxes in the morning.  Good night.

MW   (distantly):  Yes, we can, can’t we.  Good night Billy. 


Scene: The same house in wildest Arizona, 1946

Mrs Woodin:  Billy, come here I want to talk to you.

Young Bill Woodin:  Mom, if it’s about my pet python biting you, he didn’t mean it.  He just mistook you for a mouse.

MW:    So you keep saying.  But I think it’s about time you and that python forget all that Walt Disney rubbish and get it into your heads that there is no such thing as a five foot tall, talking mouse.  Mistaking me for a mouse indeed!  Look at my finger!  And it hurts.

YBW:    Gee, sorry, Mom.  What else did you want to talk to me about?

MW:    It’s about your future Billy.  It’s about time you settled down into a steady job. 

YBW:    You mean here on the ranch? 

MW:    That’s what you should be doing but you are never going to be a cowboy unless you learn to ride a horse.

YBW:    But I hate horses, Mom.  Couldn’t I just do the job in a jeep, or something like that?

MW:    You can’t drive a jeep.

YBW:    Yes I can, Mom.  They taught me when I was on that adventure holiday in Burma.  Then they gave me an ambulance to drive and I went all over the place.   It was very useful for bringing back all the ammo I kept finding, especially the big stuff.  I was very good at driving, though the sergeants, you know, the ones I told you about, use to tease me saying the big red crosses on the sides and roof were so that everyone could see me coming and get out the way.  I am sure they were joking.  They were always making jokes, for example they would say things like “Anyone here know about shorthand?” and when someone said yes, they would say “Good, they’re short-handed down at the cookhouse, so get down there and start peeling potatoes.”  Then they would all fall about laughing.  They had rather an odd sense of humour.

MW:    Well, you’re not riding a jeep so that’s the end of it.  If you can’t ride a horse like a proper cowboy you will have to get a job.  Now I’ve spoken to that nice Mr. Sutler at the shop in town and he is willing to give you a job.  He wants you to learn the business from the ground up so he is going to start you off sweeping floors.  Now I think that’s real nice of Mr Sutler.

YBW:    But Mom, I don’t want a job.  I have my own plans.  I have a dream.

MW:    You can cut out that kind of talk.  You sound just like that Doctor Martin Luther King.  He says things like that.  And where has it got him, I would like to know. 

YBW:    Who’s Dr. Martin Luther King?

MW:    You’ll find out if he ever becomes famous.  Put your silly notions right out of your head and go see Mr Sutler.

YBW:    No, Mom, I want to follow my star and fulfil my dream.

MW:    What dream is that?

YBW:    I want to start a museum.

MW:    A museum?  That sounds a bit more like it.  One filled with ancient art and all kinds of treasure, you mean?

YBW:    No, Mom.  Not that kind of museum.  They’re boring and nobody goes to them, well, except for this boy I read about in one of those English newspapers.  His name is Ken Elks and he is 7 years old.  Apparently in Canterbury (that’s the part of England he lives in, not Burma, the part where I was) there is so little entertainment he spends all his time in the local museum.  According to the newspaper he knows the names of at least seven different museum attendants and can recite the full opening hours from memory.

MW:    That boy sounds like a genius.

YBW:    Yes, that’s what he keeps telling everybody.  Anyway, I don’t mean that kind of museum.

MW:    What kind of museum do you mean?

YBW:    I mean to open a desert museum and instead of boring statues and things I am going to fill it with gophers and coyotes and snakes, and have all kinds of cactus, just like you find in the desert.

MW:    Billy, Billy, have you gone mad?  Everyone around here lives in a frigging desert for God’s sake, and they can see gophers, coyotes and snakes any day of the week just by looking out of the Goddam window.  Why would they want to go to a museum to see them?

YBW:    Because in the desert museum they could see them up real close.

MW:    Who in their right mind wants to get close to a snake?  Or those other varmints?

YBW:    Lots of people would, I’m sure.  I would for one.

MW:    You will forgive me if I say that you’re just a teensy weensy bit odd in that respect.  You should stop filling your head with all this nonsense, get on your horse and go see Mr Sutler.  Maybe he will talk some sense into you.

YBW     (reluctantly):  OK, Mom, I’ll do it just to please you.  Where’s my horse?

MW:    I left him tied up by the front door.

YBW:    Well, he’s not there now – I can’t see any sign of him:  And the python is over there fast asleep and he looks a bit lumpy around the middle!


Scene:  The newly opened Desert Museum, just outside Tucson, Arizona

Tucson Citizen Reporter:  Mr Carr, Mr, Pack, as the founders of the Desert Museum, you must be immensely proud of your accomplishment today, as it opens its doors for the first time.

William Carr:  Yes, we are, and I have to give special thanks to our member of staff, Bill Woodin for getting this off the ground.  Let me introduce you.

TCR:     Mr Woodin, how long have you worked for the Desert Museum?

Young Bill Woodin (thinking):  Let me see, it would be about six months now…….. yes, it must be because Mr. Carr has said I will be getting paid someday soon.

TCR:     What made you want to work here?

YBW:    I always dreamed of starting a Desert Museum and coming here to work was the next best thing.

TCR:     Did you have any special training for the job?

YBW:    Well in my old job, working at Sutler’s Stores, I did lots of sweeping and Mr Carr said there would be plenty of opportunity to do that here.

TCR:     I see.  And what precisely does your job entail?

YBW:    First of all I have to feed the animals and snakes each day and then I clean out all the compounds where they live.  That takes about 10 hours.  After that the day is pretty much my own except when I am in the ticket office or running the cafeteria and souvenir stall.

TCR:     Have you had many visitors?

YBW:    Just one so far, but its early days yet.  Actually he wasn’t a proper visitor; he was just delivering some donuts to the cafeteria and he said he might as well have a look round while he was here.

TCR:     How big is the Museum?

YBW:    It’s 98 acres altogether.  Mr Pack was very generous.  He just took a 10 dollar bill out his pocket and gave it to me, saying “Here, boy, see what you can get for that”.  That was when I had my brilliant idea.

TCR:     Which was?

YBW:    I thought to myself, hey what would be a better place for a Desert Museum than right in the middle of a desert.  I mean, how cool is that?   And it would keep the cost down as all the things that make a desert would be right there already.

TCR:     So what did you do with the ten bucks?

YBW:    I leased some war surplus desert from Pima County at 10 cents an acre.  Mr Pack was so pleased he let me keep the 20 cents change.

Some of the thousands of cacti thoughtfully donated to the Desert Museum by the citizens of Arizona

TCR:     What sort of animals and snakes do you have here and how many?

YBW:    We have 487 rattlesnakes.  People have been very generous.  We started off with just 2 but people kept turning up and giving us the ones from their garden, saying it was better that we should have them. 

TCR:     That’s a lot of rattlesnakes; anything else?

YBW:    Yes there’s also a python.

TCR:      I didn’t know there were any pythons in the Arizona Desert.

YBW     (defensively):  Well there is now.  It was one I got in Burma, England, and I brought it home with me to keep as a pet.

TCR:     Burma, England?  I can’t say I have heard of it.  Was it anywhere near London?

YBW:    I’m not sure but it was near Rangoon, if that helps?

TCR:     No, it doesn’t actually.  Why does the Desert Museum have it now?

YBW:    It was always biting my mother and my wife (I got married recently) doesn’t like it either.  She says it kept eyeing her up in a strange way.  But the real reason I gave it to the Museum is that at home we have nearly run out of horses to feed it.

TCR:     It eats horses?

YBW:    Yes, not many, just 27 of them in the past 7 years by my reckoning.

TCR:     That was very public-spirited of you.  Anything else?

YBW:    Yes, we have thousands of gophers and lots of rabbits, ground squirrels, coyotes, the odd mountain lion, that sort of thing – people just keep giving us those too.

TCR:      Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. 

YBW:    The aim of the Desert Museum is conservation.  You see, when the whole of the desert is built on and all you can see is shopping Malls, three-lane dual-carriageways, car parks, houses, lawns, swimming pools and schools, people will flock here to see a 98 acre piece of authentic desert.

TCR:     What about the future?

YBW:    Mr Carr and Mr Pack have told me that if the Desert Museum is a success they are going to make me a director.  That’s because they will need someone to point the visitors in the direction of the car park, toilets, restaurant and gift shop.

TCR:     Let me wish you well. 

YBW:    Thank you. Just one thing before you go.  Could you do me a favour?

TCR:     Yes if I can.  What is it?

YBW:    Could you tell your readers that if they have any horses to spare we could do with them.  About four a year will be enough.

TCR:     OK, will do!

Narrator:  The Tucson Citizen ran many stories like this, which may possibly account for why it closed down in 2009.

The Desert Museum was a success from the start with many thousands of visitors flocking to the site so that they could enjoy the thrill of communing with the realities of nature and still have coffee, burgers, popcorn, ice creams and proper toilets, just like they would in town. 

The current whereabouts of the python is not known as it has not been seen for several years, however, visitors to the Museum regularly report that the dog they brought with them has mysteriously disappeared.


Scene:  A house near Tucson, Arizona (not one we have seen before)

Bill Woodin:  Hi, honey, I’m home

Mrs Woodin Junior (wife):  Hi, Bill, you are home early.  Is there something wrong?

BW:      “Something wrong?  No, not at all.  But I have just had a GREAT idea and I couldn’t wait to tell you about it.

MWJ:   What idea is that?

BW:     You remember that my friends Gene and Frank and I wrote a book about American cartridges a few years ago? 

MWJ    (warily):  Yes.

BW:      Well guess what – we have decided to write another book.

MWJ:   Really?  What are to going to write about this time?  Something exciting, maybe?  A bonk buster that will make Mills and Boon seem like Enid Blyton?  Or a sort of James Bond spy adventure that will outdo Ian Fleming and make us a fortune when Broccoli and Saltzmann buy up the film rights?

BW       (laughing):  Of course not, silly.  We are going to write another book on…

BW & MWJ (simultaneously): ...cartridges!

MWJ:   You can’t mean that – not after what happened with the first book.  

BW:     What do you mean?  That was a great success.

MWJ:   Oh, yeah!  And how big a success was that?  Nobody ever read it.

BW:     That’s not fair.  Lots of people read it.

MWJ:   Oh!  And who were they?

BW (defensively):  Well all my friends for a start.

MWJ (sarcastically):  OK, that’s you and your mother – anyone else?

BW (mumbling):  …. er …. Gene …… Frank ……

MWJ:   That’s just what I thought.

BW (continuing):  ….. Frank’s Mom …..  Gene’s girl friend ….

MWJ (triumphantly):  Don’t bother to say any more.  Just the six copies.  I knew it.

BW:     That’s not fair.  It was (mumbles) actually.

MWJ:   How many?

BW (defiantly):  TEN!

MWJ:   Well you are not going to waste any more time and money writing another.  Not with all the things that need doing around the house, like tidying up all those ammunition boxes for a start.

BW:      But I promised Frank and Gene that I would.  Gene will do all the drawings just like last time, Frank will provide all the information and I will check the spelling and all the hyphenated words.

MWJ:   How long is this going to take you?  The last one took six years.

BW:      About the same time I guess.  And then we will get started on Volume 3.

MWJ:   Two books?  So another six years at least after the first one?

BW       (defensively):  Maybe a bit longer.  You see the first one will continue from the last book and cover everything made during the Second World War.  The second will be about everything made since. 

MWJ:   You can’t be serious.  If it takes you that long just to cover the war, and that was 25 years ago, it will take another 20 years at least to do the rest. (Assistant Editor: She was right! I know.)

BW       (hesitantly):  Well, perhaps a bit longer probably, as they are still making stuff.

MWJ:   So we could be looking at maybe another 40 years?  My God, Bill, you will be 90 before it gets finished at that rate.

BW:     That’s just silly, we will have it finished long before then.

Editor’s note:  Mrs Woodin Jnr. was remarkably prescient in her forecast, as it turned out.  The editing of Volume 3 was a lengthy process as apparently there were a huge number of hyphenated words to deal with.

MWJ (emphatically):  Listen to me, Bill, YOU ARE NOT, REPEAT NOT, TO DO IT.

BW:      Aw, honey, I want to.

MWJ:   If you go ahead with this that’s you and me finished, do you hear? 

BW:     Sorry, I can’t let my friends and public down. 

MWJ:   Your public?  All four of them, you, Frank, Gene and your mother?  If that’s your final word, we are definitely finished.  I want a divorce.  I will want the house, the car, the children and you get to keep any snakes you are still harbouring, and all the cartridges.  I am also entitled to 75% of your 23 dollars a week earnings, that’s 20 dollars.   My attorneys, Messrs. Sioux, Grabbitt and Runn have told me so.

BW:      75% of $23 is $20?  Are you sure?

MWJ:   Yes, including commission and attorney’s fee.

BW:     That seems a bit unfair.

MWJ:   No it’s not.  What is unfair is for me having to clamber over boxes of ammunition every time I want to clean the house.

BW       (reluctantly):  If you say so.  But I am sure you will regret it.

MWJ:   And I am equally sure I won’t.

BW:      What will I do with all my cartridges?

MWJ:   I don’t care.  Get a shed somewhere and store them.  Just get them out of my way. 

BW       (face lightening as inspiration comes):  That’s it!  I could buy up some cheap war surplus desert just like I did for the Desert Museum and build a place to house them.  I could build it so big I could never hope to fill it up, with plenty of room for boxes to store things and then forget what the contents are and still have room for masses of books and magazines and other stuff all about cartridges.  I could do serious stuff like looking at them and counting them and then I could call it a Laboratory, wow! That would sound really cool.  In it I could build an underground 10 yard range, no, better make that 10 metres as some of the cartridges are European ……. [Choir sings and orchestra plays, rising to a crescendo].  YES!  I COULD BUILD A CARTRIDGE UTOPIA!

MWJ:   In that case I’ll help you pack.  Goodbye, Bill.  Close the door behind you.  And don’t forget to leave the keys to the car.

                                               *                             *                               *

Narrator:  That, Dear Reader, is how the Laboratory was born.  Named after its founder, and built on the land acquired with his three leftover dollars from the divorce settlement, Bill Woodin built a big garden shed then spent the next five years making cabinets out of old pallets and had fun unpacking all his cartridges and laying them out in trays, then rearranging them, writing on them, rubbing out what he had already written and writing something different, dropping them on the floor, picking them up and replacing them in the trays in a different order, showing them off to any visitor who summoned the courage to go there.  Every day when there was nothing more important to do he would count them, except that by the time he got to 683 he was fast asleep.  It became, in short, the Holy Grail, the Mecca of cartridge collecting……..(that’s enough superlatives – Editor).  It became famous in collecting circles (but only in collecting circles because normal people have never heard of it nor ever wanted to) and cartridge manufacturers vied with one another to have their products included, such as making thousands of new examples of different 5.56mm NATO cartridges for it every year.  [Grandiose music begins to play, gradually getting louder]

Today the Laboratory stands as a monument to the man who founded it, Bill Woodin, the man who stands as a giant ……..[music gets insufferably loud and drowns out rest of diatribe].


MWJ:   Hey, don’t forget that I had a part in it!

The carefully camouflaged Woodin Laboratory and home of Bill Woodin


Scene:  The same house near Tucson where Bill’s mother lives.

Bill Woodin rings on a doorbell.  It is answered by a woman who looks uncannily like his mother.  This is to be expected as she actually is his mother.  For this episode in the saga of the Bill Woodin Story we shall refer to her as Mrs Woodin, Senior (MWS)

MWS:   Why Billy, how nice to see you.  I don’t get to see you much these days now you have got your Laboratory to run.  What brings you here?

BW:     Trigger.

MWS:   Billy, I have told you before, naming your jeep after a horse is fooling nobody, least of all me!

BW:     I’ve got some good news and I wanted you to be the first one to know…. well actually, the second…wait, tell a lie, really the THIRD person to know.

MWS:   Out with it, Billy, what is it you want to tell me?

BW:     I am going to get married again.

MWS:   Who to?  That film actress with the funny name I bet.

BW:     You mean Zsa Zsa.  Oh, no!  Not her.

MWS:   Why not? She seemed just right for you, I thought.  And there was all that stuff in the newspapers, TV too.

BW:     Aw Mom, that was just newspaper talk.  They just made it all up.  It was all fake news.

MWS:   What do you mean, made it up?  Why would they do such a thing?  What would be the point?

BW:     It’s just sensationalism, to sell newspapers.

MWS:   You can’t tell me that people just go around making up things like that. 

BW:     Well they do.

MWS:   If they can get away with that, they could make up all kinds of things about you that aren’t true.  Someone might even write a completely fake biography of you.

BW:     Nobody would bother to do that.  Anyway, it’s not Zsa Zsa, though she did contact me a few weeks ago to tell me that she was between husbands, and if I had a long week end free we could get married and divorced.  No, I am going to marry a woman I have met.  She is an intellectual.

MWS:   Someone from back east then?

BW:      Why do you say that?

MWS:   Well, you wouldn’t get a woman from around these parts who would admit to that.  Had to be someone from back east.

BW:     Actually, you are right as it happens.  She comes from Philadelphia.  You’ll like her.  Her name is Beth.  Her mother named her after Shirley Temple, her favourite film star.

MWS:   How come she is called Beth then?

BW:      Her mother didn’t like the name Shirley.

MWS:   I see.  Is she another cartridge collector too?

BW       (chuckling):  Heavens no, Mom.

MWS:   Snakes then?

BW:     No snakes either.

MWS:   That’s a relief.  I remember when you were young and started with that kind of thing and I just let you get on with it in the hope that you would grow out of all that nonsense.  How wrong can anyone be?  Look at you now, worse than ever.  So she doesn’t collect anything?

BW:     I wouldn’t say that.  Actually she collects clothespins.  They are a bit more feminine than cartridges.  Anyway I couldn’t have another cartridge collector in the family – we would end up fighting over the same things for our collections.

MWS:   Clothes pins?  Am I hearing that right?

BW:     Yes.  She has the most amazing collection, all different shapes, sizes and colours, from all over the world.  Packaging, too.  It’s a bit like collecting cartridges but clothespins instead.

MWS:   Well I hope she doesn’t write books about her collection that nobody wants to read except for a few fellow nutcases.

BW       (enthusiastically): We intend to build an extension to the side of the Lab, to house it.  It will form the basis of a National Collection.  [music begins to swell, building up once again to a crescendo].  It will become the Holy Grail, the Mecca, the ….. (Editor: I won’t tell you again, NO more superlatives.) [music stops abruptly].

MWS:   I suppose that another nutcase in the family will hardly be noticed.  Congratulations Billy, congratulations to you both.

BW:     Thank you Mom.  I knew you would understand.

MWS:   At least the pair of you won’t end up with a houseful of snakes.

BW:      NO!  Definitely not.

Narrator:  And so the National Clothes Pin Collection was born, with Beth Woodin (as she became) as the first (and only) President; she also doubled as secretary and treasurer and janitor, thus perpetuating what had become a family tradition.  Housed in a 3,000 sq. ft extension adjacent to the Woodin Laboratory, the collection eventually comprised some 2 million specimens, many of them “acquired” from visitors who were forced to bring their own clothes pins to hang up their washing during extended stayovers, which were promptly confiscate….er, donated to the NCPC when they left.  It is believed that nearly 450,000 new examples were obtained in this way.  Among the exciting programme of educational events associated with the NCPC were daily demonstrations on hanging up washing by using clothes pins and how to use clothes pins to stop food in the freezer falling out of opened packets.  Lectures included “How my daughter became obsessed with clothes pins when she saw Shirley Temple using them to hold her curly hair in place” by Beth Woodin’s mother.  At one time the NCPC sponsored monthly meetings of Clothes Pin Collectors Anonymous (a registered charity that tried to cure addiction to clothes pin collecting) but had to give up the idea because (a) it clashed with meetings of Cartridge Collectors Anonymous (b) there were no other clothes pin collectors in the whole world.

Editor’s note:  OK, that last bit may be a tad unkind as there MAY be other clothes pin collectors, however, in my defense I should point out that personally I have NEVER met one.


Scene:  The Woodin Laboratory

Visitor: Good morning Mr. Woodin.  My name is Hiram N Firam.  Thank you for seeing me at such short notice.  I’m from the Inland Revenue Service.

Bill Woodin:  Good morning.  May I ask the purpose of this visit?

HNF:    Of course.  You are probably aware that there have been many tax scandals revealed in recent months and the Woodin Laboratory has been selected for a random check, just to make sure that your tax affairs are in order.

BW       (taken aback):  Oh!

HNF:    First a few questions I need to ask.  I see that the Woodin Laboratory is a wholly owned subsidiary of Woodin Laboratory Holdings, a company registered in the Bahamas.

BW:     Yes that’s correct.

HNF:    And the company directors are listed as Michael Mauser, George Kinocchio and Fabrice Nationale.

BW:     Yes, I believe so, yes.

HNF     (making notes):  Strange names, don’t you think?

BW      (hesitantly):  Maybe because they are foreigners?

HNF     (making more notes all the time): Yes, you may be right.  I see that among the employees there is someone named Vanessa.  What is her job exactly?

BW:     She’s head of security.

HNF:    What’s her other name?  It doesn’t seem to be shown anywhere.

BW:     She doesn’t have another name.

HNF:    Why not?

BW:     Because she’s a dog.

HNF     (giving BW a long hard stare):  I see.  And these other names, Growler, Gnasher, Biter, Slasher, Snarler, Ripper and Terry?

BW:     They’re dogs too?

HNF:       Rather a lot of them I feel.

BW:      (defensively): Well, they work shifts.

HNF:    They have pretty fearsome sounding names.  All except the last one, Terry, that is.

One of the Lab’s security team keeps a watchful eye out for potential victims.

BW:     You have to watch him – he’s the worst of the lot.

HNF     (incredulously):  What, with a name like that?

BW:     Yes, it’s short for “Tear Ya Leg Off.”

HNF     (makes more notes):  Hmm!  And what about this other employee, Kittan?  Is that a dog too?

BW:     No, a cat.

HNF:    Why a cat? 

BW:     Kittan works the night shift – cats can see in the dark.

HNF:    What good would a cat be as a guard.

BW:     Well, I admit not very good to begin with, that is not until Kittan learned to shoot, that is.

HNF:    You have a cat that shoots guns?

BW:     Yes.  I know it’s strange, and we didn’t believe it ourselves at first but then we started to notice the bullet holes in the walls.   A bit random to begin with, sprayed all over the place, but getting some pretty tight groupings now.

Lab Cat Kittan just about to commence target practice, showing some of the wide
variety of ammunition available.
Bill Woodin was also present but he refused the food put out in his dish and looked
positively alarmed when his tummy was tickled.

HNF     (scribbling away):  Another thing.  I see that your expenses include around $25,000 annually for tinned food.

BW:     Yes, we use the tins for targets when testing ammunition. 

HNF:    You use tinned food for targets?

BW       (laughing):  Oh! No – we always empty them first.

HNF:    What do you do with the contents?

BW:     We eat it – no point it letting it go to waste.

HNF     (shaking head):  No, of course not.  Let’s turn to another matter that concerns us.  I see that in 2001 you applied for and received a government grant of 1.2 billion dollars.

BW:     Yes, that’s correct, we did.

HNF:     And what was this for, precisely?

BW:     To buy cartridges.

HNF:    But this grant was paid to you from the Overseas Aid budget.

BW:     Yes.  It certainly aided all the foreign collectors from whom we bought the cartridges.

HNF:    In the same vein, can you clear up this item then, $40,000 listed under “entertaining foreign guests”?

BW:     We get lots of visitors from abroad and that just covers the expenses while they are here.  Some of these visitors are quite famous.  For example we had Ken Elks here recently, although he’s not really famous of course, just thinks he is.

HNF     In that case I think we are about finished here.

BW       (apprehensively):  And how much more tax needs to be paid?

HNF     (chuckling):  None!

BW       (surprised):  None at all?

HNF:    Nope, none at all.  Nothing out of the ordinary with your tax affairs.

BW:      That’s a relief.

HNF:     Yes, not like to owner of a lot of golf courses I had to interview last week.  His tax affairs were all over the place, I can tell you.  Had a bit of a strange attitude to his employees.  Every time one came into the room he would shout at them “You’re fired.”  Ghastly person.

BW:      Sounds like it.

HNF:     I tell you one thing that will amuse you.  This guy kept on saying that one day he was going to be President of the USA and I had better watch out.  Can you believe that?

BW:      It’s not that easy to become President.  I tried years ago but didn’t get elected.

HNF:     This guy won’t either.  I’ll eat my hat if that ever happens.

BW:      So that’s it then?

HNF:     Yes, that’s it.  Oh! Yes, there is just one thing before I go.

BW:      What is it?

HNF:     I’ve brought along some .30-06 cartridges.  I wonder if you would mind helping me to identify them?

POSTSCRIPT: Fast forward to 2016.  From the corner of the room we hear the sound of a hat being munched.

One of the many snakes on view at the Woodin Laboratory Safari Park, part of the entertainment arranged for visitors. It was taken shortly before the photographer was posthumously voted “Snake Photographer of the Year”

Postscript, by the Assistant Editor:

Toward the end of his life, following the death of his wife, Beth, Bill remained active and alert. The local hospice folks provided a comfortable hospital-type adjustable bed for him and placed it in the main room of the house with plenty of space in front of a large-screen TV, where he could keep track of what was happening in the world around him. A telephone was at his side, as was anything else he needed or wanted. He had lots of conversations with collectors.

Two Indian women took care of Bill and one night while I was there, their grandmother performed a ritual ceremony for him via telephone. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life, and the positive effect on Bill was remarkable.

Ken mentioned Vanessa, Beth’s guard dog. Vanessa was about one-half wolf and was very independent. I took the picture below when she positioned herself in the middle of the walkway to the quest house and wouldn’t budge for me or anybody else.

Finally, Bill’s heart had done all it could do, and Bill died peacefully on 14 March 2018. It was my honor to deliver a eulogy of sorts to a gathering of Bill and Beth’s friends at their memorial service at the Sonora Desert Museum’s main auditorium, where hundreds of their friends learned for the first time of Bill’s status as the world’s greatest collector of military and police ammunition. Bill didn’t brag about his work with ammunition, and almost none of his close friends knew what was behind those doors in the side of the hill across the parking area from the main house.

— The End —